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Menstrual Hygiene Day – Steps towards ensuring a zero-waste period

 - Samhitha Thatikonda

 

“We are living on this planet as if we have another one to go to.”

Despite our first instinct being to deny this quote after hearing it, we have to admit that it does hold truth. Landfills consume vast amounts of area, destroying land and oceans; our excessive use of vehicles emits harmful fumes into the air; and waste litters the sidewalks of many countries, endangering wildlife. And, sadly, one of the primary contributors to these landfills is the menstrual waste.

According to a Times of India analysis, 12.3 billion metric tonnes of sanitary pads are discarded each year, resulting in around 113,000 metric tonnes of garbage. This is due to the fact that these pads are made out of plastic and non-biodegradable components that do not degrade quickly enough to be environmentally beneficial. Instead, they occupy landfill areas for up to 500-800 years, creating vast amounts of land and air pollution.

So, how do we address this? We don’t have control over our bodies’ natural processes, but we do have control over the sanitary products we use. Fortunately, and especially recently, various alternatives to the traditional sanitary pad have been introduced—alternatives that are profoundly more sustainable and similarly comfortable.

Biodegradable Sanitary Pads

It can be tough to transition from one sanitary product to another once you’ve been accustomed to using one over all these years. That’s why organic pads are the best place to start when transitioning; they’re unquestionably the most similar to traditional pads, with the main difference being that they’re made of organic materials, which allow the pad to decompose faster without leaching any toxins into the environment. Furthermore, they are more breathable than regular ones. Unfortunately, they still take up to a year to fully disintegrate, taking up significant space in landfills and waste dumps; as a result, they aren’t the most sustainable solution. However, for a newbie who has grown too accustomed to traditional pads, these are the ideal first step towards a much larger transformation.

Reusable cloth pads

When you initially start making the changeover, these cloth pads are the best second step; they’re quite comparable to the basic pad. The application is similar, with the only visible difference being that you must wash, properly dry and reuse them. You only need to change them every 3-6 hours, just like a regular pad, and after you’ve purchased enough to last a whole cycle, you won’t need to buy more for at least a few months. The advantage of them over organic pads is that they produce no waste but one needs to ensure that the cloth pads are properly sun dried.

Period Underwear

This is another reasonably simple approach to consider. It works like regular pants but is totally absorbent of menstrual blood. If you don’t feel confident wearing only your pants for the first two cycles, you can easily pair it with a cloth pad or a menstrual cup until you get used to it. Each pair can last up to two years and does not need to be replaced frequently, making it both cost-effective and environmentally beneficial.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups will likely be the most noticeable difference from pads because they demand you to insert the device, which can be incredibly difficult to begin with. Menstrual cups can be a good permanent alternative after experimenting with the other two options and growing comfortable with the notion of not using a pad. It may be difficult to find the right size and brand at first, but if you do and learn how to use it, the cup can endure for up to ten years. Furthermore, unlike the other options, you can swim with it, reducing the likelihood that your period would interfere with your everyday activities.

These are only a few of the alternatives to traditional sanitary pads and tampons. There are methods for disposing of sanitary pads in a sustainable manner, such as sanitary pad incinerators (machines that burn sanitary pads at the appropriate temperature and convert them to ashes).

The best thing we can do is start gently transitioning to eco-friendly solutions. Begin with the first two selections and work your way up to the menstrual cups. Finally, both your body and the environment will benefit!

Menstrual Hygiene Awareness

On the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28th May 2023, we conducted an event in Lamakaan, Hyderabad to spread awareness regarding menstruation. 

Disposal of Menstrual Waste across India

- Samhitha Thatikonda

 

Menstrual waste in India creates, on average, 113,000 tonnes of waste per year- and most of this is sanitary pads that can take up to 800 years to decompose. One of the ways to reduce this massive number would be to begin using alternatives to the sanitary pad; but it’s not an easy change to make. Many women do not have the education or resources required to make the switch, and others may be too apprehensive to change anytime soon. Therefore, another way to combat the problem is simply to dispose of already existing period waste in a better, more efficient manner, whether that is through using an incinerator or segregation. Thankfully, many cities in India have already started to introduce these methods- let’s take a look at their methods and see how Hyderabad can also start to implement them as well.

 

Bangalore

Bangalore first began taking initiative to segregate waste in 2016. They first enforced three-way segregation where all sanitary waste (i.e sanitary pads, diapers, and contraceptives) were disposed of into red bins, and then processed the waste in incinerators. However, this process ran into lots of issues. For example, even 6 months post introduction, less than 25% of the waste was being collected, mostly due to people failing to segregate. Further, after the waste was collected it was taken to a secondary collection center, where it was picked up by the people handling the incineration. Unfortunately, there was a severe shortage of kiosks, and they were not present at all the sections, causing sanitary waste to once again be lumped with dry waste and taken to a landfill. In addition, the cost of incineration was quite expensive, and hence difficult to continue in the long run. However, as of 2023, Bangalore has introduced segregation machines to automatically separate waste into the 3 different categories, one of which is sanitary waste. This solves the issue of human error during segregation, and also speeds up the process. The BBMP also decided to set up an in-house domestic sanitary waste processing plant as of February this year. It will be setting up various processing units throughout the city and then be processed through incineration or something similar. They also assured that sanitary waste brought to dry waste collection centers would be removed and placed in the correct area, thereby solving many of the issues the early years of the initiative faced.

 

Pune

Another city in India that has made notable progress in this area would be Pune. The city has employed many similar methods to Bangalore, such as segregating waste and then processing it using an incinerator- but it has its fair share of different methods too. The Pune-based CSIR- National Chemical Laboratory has placed a unique sanitary pad disposal mechanism on its campus, installed with the help of a start-up called Padcare. This machine focuses on recycling sanitary pads rather than simply disposing of them- it focuses on making them different things, such as flower pots, pencils, and journals. This is possible due to cellulostic content in pads, while the plastic content is separated and mixed with things such as concrete to make paving stones. In order to do this, they installed disposal bins inside of the washroom stalls, to allow for easier collection. 

Indore

This city has gone an extra mile, and separates waste into 6 categories rather than the usual three- dry waste, wet waste, domestic hazardous waste, domestic bio-medical waste (including sanitary waste), E-waste, and plastic waste. The Indore Municipal Corporation has employed the Feedback Foundation to create waste management awareness in Madhya Pradesh. Initially, households were resistant towards segregating waste, but they began fining those who refused to comply, eventually making Indore the cleanest city in the country. The air quality has improved due to a lack of burning sanitary waste and vector-borne diseases have also dropped significantly.

As we can see, many cities across India have taken steps to ensure sanitary waste doesn’t continue to contribute so heavily to landfills and pollution. Unfortunately, Hyderabad currently doesn’t have any methods in place to ensure sanitary waste is segregated and disposed of in a different location. It is vital for our city to take note of the array of methods across India and work on their execution as soon as possible, such as simply making it mandatory for communities to have waste segregation and then sending it to a processing plant. The longer we take to make a change to our systems, the harder it will be to combat the pollution sanitary waste is causing.


About the author

Samhitha Thatikonda had found herself falling in love with reading and words from the moment she read her first book. Shortly after, she was introduced to the world of writing, and ever since, reading and writing have become two vital aspects of her life. She now spends a majority of her free time with a novel in her hands or writing prose and articles.

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